While We’re Young is Noah Braumbach’s inter-generational comedy about the allure of youth and the frustration of ageing, telling us that the adage that you are only as old as you feel really only stretches so far. Every generation must face its next and realise that there is another one that will outlive you, will make you grapple with growing older and query your relevance. That is the theme of another in a string of Braumbach New York indie movies (Kicking and Screaming, 1995; The Squid and the Whale, 2005; Margot at the Wedding, 2007; and Frances Ha, 2012): witty, articulate and at times reminiscent of Woody Allen in his, dare I say, better days.
As a viewer we are introduced to the central theme by some opening quotes from Henrik Ibsen’s ‘The Master Builder‘ in which the main character Solness wonders whether he should ‘open the door’ to the younger generation, out of fear that they may ‘break in’ upon us and seek ‘retribution’.
The protagonists in While We’re Young are Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts), a forty-something couple from Brooklyn, New York, he a documentary filmmaker with a career that seems to be going nowhere (his latest, still unfinished, project has already taken him 10 years and counting), she the producer of the work of her father (Charles Grodin), a celebrated documentary heavyweight who can not be but disappointed by his son-in-law. At some point in their lives together, Josh and Cornelia lost the passion in their relationship and the ambition in their careers. Like their same-age friends they thought about having kids, tried to have kids but, unlike most of their friends, not had kids and are now trying to deal with what that means going forward in their marriage.
Through luck and maybe good fortune they bump into Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a cool young and charismatic hipster couple, almost young enough to be their children, who, surprisingly enough, want to nurture a friendship with Josh and Cornelia and hang out with them. Like Josh, Jamie is an aspiring documentary filmmaker (yes, New York seems to be full of them …), whilst Darby spends her days making ice cream (as one does). Through their friendship with Jamie and Darby whose apartment is filled (as Cornelia exclaims excitingly one day) with all the retro things they once threw out (“but it looks so good the way they have it!”), Josh and Cornelia rejuvenate their relationship with a passion: Josh takes up cycling, Cornelia joins Darby at hip-hop dance classes and together they join Jamie and Darby with their other hipster friends at a hallucinogenic Ayahuasca ceremony, at the same time almost falling out with their conventional, old friends (one of which is ironically played by Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys) who feel they are losing connection with their baby-dominated world. As things are seldom what they seem we soon find out what the real reason is for Jamie and Darby nurturing this friendship with Josh and Cornelia ….
Not being one of Ben Stiller’s biggest fans, his performance is funny without him even trying to be and there is a real chemistry between him and Naomi Watts. They are strangely endearing. She is a real revelation and effortlessly funny in a comedy role and with a career that seems to have been really reinvigorated recently (since Birdman?), it is great to see her in something else than the troubled and suffering characters she often portrays, this time battling with something more serious, called … growing up. Unfortunately her and Amanda Seyfried’s character (who seems to spend her days with little else than making organic ice cream) are not nearly as fleshed out as they could have been which is a shame as that would have made the film a bit more balanced. Adam Driver is clearly the new kid in town (is it me or is he in almost every other film these days?) and does a good job as the cool, but oh so driven and calculating Jamie.
This film is clearly targeted at a wider audience than Braumbach’s previous work and with a great cast and some good acting is likely to do well. The stereotypes of the Brooklyn hipsters, Josh and Cornelia’s same-age young parent friends whose lives fully evolve around their baby, is however slightly disappointing but at times this admittedly adds to the comical effect of the film. The climactic showdown of the film where Josh finds himself pronouncing on the rights and wrongs of documentary filmmaking at an awards ceremony where his father in law is being honoured for his career in the business, was however a bit lost on me and appears slightly too heavy-handed in what is otherwise a fairly light-hearted comedy.
By the time of the rolling credits at the end, Paul McCartney’s ‘Let ‘Em in’ tells us that there is really no reason to fear the younger generation: instead from running away, we should embrace them and let their youth re-energise our lives, just as it has done to Josh and Cornelia’s marriage.
While We’re Young was released in the UK on 3 April 2015.
Director: Noah Baumbach
Writer: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Naomi Watts, Ben Stiller, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Horovitz, Maria Dizzia, Charles Grodin
Running time: 97 min